Traffic deaths are unfortunately the leading cause of fatalities for U.S. citizens abroad. Taking precautions to address pedestrian and traffic safety when planning your travel or while abroad can help mitigate the risk of serious injury. Being aware of local regulations, traffic patterns and how weather conditions or holidays may impact travel conditions is a key step toward taking control of your safety.
Pedestrians should always understand the flow of traffic in any environment. In particular, know whether or not cars drive on the left or right side of the road in your destination. At home or abroad, always look both ways prior to crossing a street.
When traveling in an unfamiliar environment, do not tune out important cues by wearing headphones while walking or entering crosswalks engaged in phones or deep conversations. The assumption that pedestrians have the right of way and traffic will yield for pedestrians automatically is not always the case. Do not assume that traffic patterns and behaviors overseas will mimic those you are accustomed to at home.
Students are highly discouraged from driving during their international experience.
Faculty and staff who intend to drive while abroad should be aware of the local laws, traffic signs as well as road conditions. Weather may not only impact visibility but can also wreak havoc on locations with poor road maintenance. Know what the local roads or areas to avoid. Be cognizant whether routes will take you through areas identified as higher risk. Prior to driving in a foreign country, determine what the availability is for roadside assistance. Intercity travel should only occur during daylight hours, particularly in locations with poor road infrastructure and maintenance, in suboptimal weather conditions or in higher risk locations.
In addition to poor road conditions, certain routes may need to be reconsidered or avoided in some countries for personal safety and security reasons. Always check with resources such as the U.S. Department of State country travel advisory for or Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) Crime and Safety report for your destination to verify if there are particular routes that should be avoided.
Consider the vehicle safety as well as insurance. When selecting a rental vehicle, check for the presence of seatbelts and locks as well as assess the overall condition of the vehicle prior to and upon entering. Be sure that you have an international drivers permit or a driver’s license that is valid in the country in which you are driving, as it is illegal to drive without a valid license and insurance in most countries. Also know the local emergency numbers and protocol for what to do in the event of an accident.
Public Transportation Safety
Be sure to practice situational awareness and crime mitigation strategies when using public transportation, as opportunistic theft occurs worldwide and passengers utilizing public transportation or at stations or bus/taxi stops make for prime targets. Be cognizant of your belongings and take care at busy stations; in particular, beware of individuals jostling you. If traveling at night, use well-lit stations whenever possible.
Be sure to reference the U.S. Department of State travel advisory or Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) Crime and Safety Report for your country of travel to obtain more information about routes which are particularly susceptible to opportunistic thefts or any routes to avoid, if applicable.
Travelers should only use taxis from a reputable company. If you have any questions about this, usually the concierge at your hotel will be able to assist. Many travelers prefer to use rideshare apps such as Uber and Lyft, but there may be legal issues or other concerns with using these services in your travel destination. Do not share a taxi with strangers while traveling abroad.
When the taxi arrives, take note of the license plate and obtain the taxi driver’s information and also check that the driver has a photo id displayed; not only is this a good practice for your safety, but this information can be invaluable should you leave any personal belongings behind. Check the meter and agree to a fare before entering. Have your destination written out in the local language, when applicable. If the door does not lock, sit in the middle of the seat to discourage opportunistic thieves at stops.
You can find more information about what taxi services to use or avoid from the U.S. Department of State or Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) Crime and Safety Report for your destination.
When using public transportation, attending events, or traveling out and about, it is crucial to be aware of crowd density as well as all entrances and exits. Frequently crowd surges do not become noticeably uncomfortable to those in the middle of them until it may be too late to easily extricate oneself.
Many people automatically use only main entrances or exits to venues. If you are attempting to enter or exit a premise and notice that an overwhelming number of others are headed to the same entryway as you are, take a moment to look for alternate routes that are less crowded. It can be a helpful exercise to identify multiple exit points when you first enter a space so that you know your options should you need to quickly make use of them.
Avoid any space or leave if you notice the crowd density appears dangerous. To ascertain the density, take a moment to determine if you have physical touch with those around you. If not, the density is under about three people per square meter. If you are unintentionally bumping against one or two people in your vicinity, the density is around four to five people per square meter. At this point, there may not be an imminent threat but you should take action to move away from the center of the congestion.
At more than 6 people per square meter, a crowd has hit a critical threshold and one’s ability to move and act independently of the rest of the crowd is severely hampered. You may or may not be able to freely move your hands. At this point, physical contact between individuals can cause shockwaves that ripple throughout the surrounding crowd.
Crowd crushes are often silent events. If you find yourself in the midst of heavy congestion and unable to easily extricate yourself from the situation, take appropriate steps to brace your yourself while avoiding any barriers such as walls against which you could become pinned, and shore up your balance. Calmly follow the crowd, without pushing, and take measures to protect your chest and lungs. Sturdy, flat shoes are most recommended for such situations, so it is best to wear good footwear if you know in advance that you are going someplace that may experience a large volume of people. Even if your footwear situation is less than ideal, the pressure and counterpressure of other people in the space should keep you relatively stable unless someone falls, which can quickly cause a domino effect if not addressed immediately. If someone near you falls, try to help them up without bending too far down or compromising your balance yourself.
Loss of oxygen is the biggest threat of a crowd crush. To protect your chest and lungs, raise your arms. You can make a “T” by grabbing one arm with your opposite hand or adopt a boxer’s guard stance. Keeping your arms at chest level helps avoid having them pinned and can give you the space you need to breathe.
If the situation is dangerous and you cannot leave, protect yourself, be kind and help others. A united crowd with individuals looking out for one another is more likely to lead to better outcomes.